A DreamWorks Animation artist by day and cake decorator by night - Fernanda Abarca is one very busy and talented artist! Learn here how she balances the two and about her fun relationship with Po from Kung Fu Panda.
Brief history of your business and how you got to where you are today?
I am a feature animation artist at DreamWorks Animation and have worked for the company since 2006. As an artist, sometimes you aspire for more, and so, in 2010 I started a small family catering business and was in charge of desserts. I enjoyed baking, but I wanted to be sure our cakes didn’t just taste good, but looked awesome as well. That was the first time I experimented with fondant and I quickly realized the possibilities were endless. I took all I had learned from my experience as an animation artist and from my illustration background and simply applied it to sugar.
How were you first introduced to Satin Ice?
My first experience with using Satin Ice fondant was in 2010. My son was turning one and I wanted to make some sugar sculpted animals for his cake. I remember it being very difficult because I had no clue about fondant, and I expected it to behave like Sculpey (clay). I quickly learned sculpting in sugar was more difficult than it looked.
Is there one project that stands out as significant or that your proud of?
It’s hard for me to say which I am most proud of. Recently I made a Disneyland 60th Anniversary Castle cake for ABC television, and I have to say that was the most tedious cake I have ever done. I normally don’t get a lot of request to sculpt building/structured cakes, but this one was enormously detailed and I worked endless hours on making sure the details were perfect. As a result, many of the small features were equivalent to the crafting's on a fine dollhouse. I loved it! As much as I initially thought it would be boring, the entire project itself was a very pleasant experience to bring together. But as always I wish I had another 3 days to work on it.
I love traditional sculptures and the inspiration that comes from incredible animation artists, such as Disney legend Glen Keane and others. I work with so many artistically talented individuals on a daily basis that it’s hard not to get inspired by them in some form or another. I also love to look at incredible maquettes from world-renowned sculptors.
Most challenging cake to date?
It DEFINITELY has to be the Disneyland 60th Anniversary Castle cake. What made this difficult was that it was time consuming. Every detail had to be painstakingly planned and all the pieces had to be made in advance, dried out, and then assembled. It was similar to putting together a super labor-intensive puzzle. In fact I put together a miniature paper model of the castle before I started the cake. Simply so I could understand the entire floor plan of the structure. It was very helpful.
I don’t have a favorite cake I love them all. As of the date of this interview, Po from DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 3 is my latest, and oh so super cute! Oh & Pig from Home turned out super adorable as well.
(DreamWorks Animation next to Fernanda's fondant creations! - Copyright DreamWorks Animation)
What tips can you offer to Satin Ice newcomers?
Don’t give up. At first you may feel super frustrated because you don’t understand the medium, but after a lot of practice, reading, and watching educational YouTube videos, you will become awesome! All it takes is a little perseverance and a lot of practice.
If you weren't decorating cakes, what would you be doing?
Drawing, painting, sculpting, and of course, making more animated movies.
What is a 'regular' cake decorating day like for you?
My day is never regular because my schedule is usually packed. I work full time as an artist at DreamWorks, so all my cakes are done in my free time.
(The many stages of Po - below)
What is your creative process for making cakes?
I always start with a sketch. I figure out the proportions, the rig (internal structure), the color palette, etc. Then I look for reference. I find TONS of pictures. I need to try and find reference for the subject at every angle in order for me to get the best overall visual picture I can. I want to learn the most I can about the subject. Planning takes me about 4-8 hours per cake and it all depends on the cake.
Who is your favorite cake artist in the industry and why?
This is a hard one. There are so many. I honestly believe that the talent around you will drive you to become the best you can be. It would be impossible to name all of my favorite artists but there are a few cake artists that are very inspiring to me and literally blow every project out of the water. Every piece they make is consistently above and beyond average and their skills are unbelievable. I love Maria Genna for her sculpting; I love Karen Portaleo for her ability to make everything gorgeous. Not only is her sculpting fantastic her painting is always on par. I love Carlos Lischetti for his joyous figures; I love Jacqueline Butler for her flawless flowers, Mike McCarey for his awesome structures and detailed work, Angela Nino for her incredible use of colors. I could go on… there is a huge list.
Who or what is inspiring you at this very moment?
Kent Melton, what a genius! He has done several of the maquettes for Disney.
Kent Melton and some of his creations for Disney (below)
Do you consider yourself to be a cake trendsetter? If so, how and why?
I hope that my work inspires people. I try my very best to help where I can. And honestly I just want my work to bring a smile to people’s faces. Whether it sets a trend I have no idea - and it’s not important to me. What is important to me is that they look at it and say.. “ I want to do that.”
What do you aspire to accomplish with each cake?
Joy, laughter, etc. I work hard on my cakes and I’m often asked, “Doesn't it hurt you to see people cut into one of your cakes?” The answer is no - that’s the point. It’s edible art. The joy comes in the reaction of the crowd, clients and fans. I also hope to inspire the fans to step out of their comfort zones and try something new.
Fernanda and her fondant dragon - photo (below) copyright by DreamWorks Animation
What are the big trends you are seeing right now in cakes?
To be honest I’m not sure. I don’t make traditional cakes, so I don’t often know what the big thing is. But I have seen a lot of really beautiful abstract cakes very similar to Clifford Luu’s (Cakes by Cliff) work. Using all sorts of ingredients from flowers to chocolate bars, to fresh fruits, for creating beautiful architectural works of art. I think he is definitely setting a very unusual and quite refreshing trend. His work is beautiful.
If you could create a cake for anyone in history (past or present): Who would it be and why?
It would be an honor to make a cake for my personal lord and savior Jesus Christ. I would want to make a cake for him as a way of saying thank you for what he has done and continues to do in my life. The talent and gifts he has blessed me with, and the hope and inspiration I have from him. He is the ultimate artist and I am blessed to have him guide my eyes and hands through every project.
What is the next "big thing" for you?
I have a lot going on. I’m not sure what the next big thing is. I live one day at a time and try my best with the opportunities that come my way. Some new things are coming I can’t disclose but it’s exciting.
Name: Fernanda Abarca
Location: Montrose, CA, USA
Education: Studied Illustration at Maryland Institute College of Art/BFA in 3D Animation at Ringling College of Art & Design
Business name: Fernanda Abarca Cakes/Online only
Cake philosophy: Create because you love it!